My father’s parents died in the late 1920s – both were 48 years old.
As I understand it, that was about the average lifespan for that time. My grandmother Emma, the mother of 11 children, died of a stroke, and Obe, my grandfather, died the following year during a typhoid epidemic. It seems strange to think of them, dead long before my birth in 1959. It also seems strange to think that I’m a year older now than they were at the end of their lives.
So many things have changed since their lifetimes – it would be an amazing and probably mostly scary world indeed to them if they could see some of those changes. Think of it – automobiles that travel so fast, the Interstate system, Atlanta traffic (which also frightens me), airplanes, skyscrapers, TV, computers, cell phones, “surround sound” and on and on.
For some reason I was thinking about all that as I sat out on our back deck one evening last weekend, watching the blinking lights of jets as they streaked among the stars overhead. The sky would have been empty of such things when they sat under it a hundred years ago.
When I closed my eyes, I heard the cicadas and the crickets, who had been “gearing up” since dusk, their music getting louder and louder the darker the sky became. Were my grandparents sitting with me now, I thought, they would recognize this — this is something they would know. I thought of the stories my aunt Donnie use to tell me, stories of how the family often slept out on the covered porches of the homes they lived in during hot weather, so the serenade of these and other night creatures were probably the last things they heard as they all drifted off to sleep. Emma and Obe and their family lived in sharecropper homes all around the place where I live now, in fact, both are buried within a mile or so of my home. It’s a comforting thought, and makes me feel connected to them in one of the few ways I can. Thinking about that, and listening to the cicadas and crickets, I decided to find out something about these insects and their nocturnal songs.
So, turning to the Internet, another thing that my grandparents would never have been able to imagine, I searched for “cicadas” and then “crickets.” I was not disappointed.
According to Wikipedia, there are about 2,500 known species of cicada around the world. The large, “bug-eyed” (pardon the pun) creatures like warmer climes and are said to be one of the most recognized of all the insects, in part because of ––their large size and also because of the “remarkable acoustic talents” of the males. Some refer to them as “jar flies” or “dry flies” because of the dry shells they leave behind during their metamorphosis from underground burrowing nymphs to winged adults. Seems many cultures consider them a delicacy, particularly the female who is supposed to be “meatier.”
Well, I don’t think they’ve ever been a delicacy in the south.
There seems to be somewhat of a “cult following” of the cicada on the Internet, as various websites are devoted to them, their life cycles (from several years to as much as 17) and their various species-specific songs from around the world. I listened to recordings from some of these, and so did my dog, turning his head quizzically from side to side at the strange noises coming from my computer.
Then I turned my attention to the somewhat less cult-inspiring cricket. Compared to the cicada, there are relatively few species of crickets – only about 900 or so. Crickets “chirp” rather than sing, and again, it is only the males that have this talent. They have ridges on their wings and their chirp is generated by raising their left forewing and rubbing it against the upper hind edge of the right forewing -– not by rubbing their hind legs together, as some believe. The male cricket has a repertoire of chirps, from the loud one he uses to attract females, to the softer, more soothing one he employs once he has her interest. There’s even suppose to be a brief “victory” chirp once mating has occurred.
Crickets also chirp at different rates depending on the temperature – which explains why the sound of them gets louder as the nights get warmer.
So as most of us enjoy the summer evenings outside this holiday weekend, take a moment to just be quiet and listen to the “symphony” going on all around you, as it has been for centuries. In this changing world, I think it’s a comforting sound indeed.
Margie Richards is a reporter for The Madison County Journal.